“Hi ho, hey yay! It’s all fun and play today!”
Fenton greeted his fellow inhabitants who lived with him in his small, cramped laboratory.
Tabby Cat extended both ears and antennae in response to Fenton’s remark. As if on cue, Tabby took several bold steps forward. Tabby planted his front paws firmly in front of him and executed a perfect somersault in place, landing on all fours. Fenton had had a pet skunk once who could perform this trick. Tabby Cat’s behavior mimicked that of his late, beloved Samantha Skunk.
“Bravo, Tabby! Bravo! Isn’t he the cat’s meow, Harkley?”
Harkley just sat there, staring blankly ahead. Harkley always wore a blank expression. Occasionally Harkley might blink his eye. Sometimes the old man would blink his left eye. Sometimes he would blink his right eye. On very rare occasions, Harkley managed to blink both eyes at the same time. A small amount of drool appeared at the corner of Harkley’s mouth.
“There, there, Harkley. We can’t have that now, can we?” Fenton moved to wipe Harkley’s mouth with a handkerchief.
A feathered creature resembling a flying lizard let out a shrill screech. He sported a rainbow of assorted colors. Three bug eyes protruded out from both sides of his head. The “monster” jumped off his perch and began flying in circles around the laboratory. His name was Horateo. Horateo landed smartly on Fenton’s shoulder.
“Okay, then. Good as new!” Fenton finished attending to Harkley. Fenton put the handkerchief back in his pocket as he beamed at the old man. Then Fenton turned his attention to Horateo. He reached up and scratched the back of Horateo’s neck.
“Pretty, pretty boy,” he goochy-gooed to Horateo. Horateo began whistling “Dixie.”
“Dickery, dickery dare…” recited Fenton.
“…The pig flew up in the air. The man in brown soon brought him down! Dickery, dickery, dare.”
Fenton concluded the rhyme, and then he leaped into the air and kicked his heels twice. Horateo struggled to maintain a perch on Fenton’s shoulder. Horateo whistled, admiringly.
“Let’s do a math problem, shall we?” said Fenton. “Harkley, can you tell me the answer to 72 divided by 8?”
Harkley stared straight ahead with a blank expression.
“No? Well, that’s okay. Not to worry, ole’ chap.”
“How ’bout you, Horateo? Are you game?” asked Fenton.
“Bwwwaaakkkk! Ask Tabby! Ask Tabby Cat!” screeched the bird.
Fenton turned to Tabby Cat. “Tabby, stamp your paws to signify the answer.”
Fenton recalled the famous story of clever Hans, the horse that seemed to learn to count. But in fact, the horse was just getting cues from its owner. The experiment made people suspicious of studies that claimed animals could to math. But Tabby Cat was a horse of a different color. The new program Fenton installed in Tabby last week enabled the cat to perform algebra, calculus—even differential equations. Yesterday, Tabby correctly answered a problem dealing with a sphere moving through a fluid. This algebra problem was mere child’s play by comparison.
Tabby stamped both front paws nine times.
“Excellent, Tabby! Now, who can sing us a song?”
Horateo started to squawk; Fenton cut him short.
“–Horie, dearest—you’ve already had your moment of glory. Your rendition of ‘Dixie” was most impressive. Let’s let Tabby have a go, shall we? Tabby? Can you sing us a song?”
The cat paused briefly. He wore a puzzled look for a second. Then a big grin appeared on his face. He twitched his whiskers nervously. Then Tabby Cat nodded his head up and down in an affirmative response to Fenton’s request.
“MEOW MEOw Meow meow… MEOW MEOw Meow meow… Meow Meow Meow MEow MEOW Meow meow meow…” screamed Tabby.
Fenton recognized the old jingle from a television commercial. The special effects made a cat appear to sing as it begged for a particular brand of cat food. Fenton didn’t recall the brand, but it was a certainly a catchy little tune.
Fenton was ready to congratulate Tabby but then he stopped in mid-sentence.
Fenton honestly couldn’t remember ever programming this little ditty—or anything like it—into Tabby Cat.
Fenton fell silent. After a moment, he said, “Extraordinary!” Fenton said it quietly, as though he were the only sentient being in the room.
“Bwwwaakkk!” cried Horateo. “Tabby Smart Cat! Tabby Smart Cat!” Horateo blinked all six of his eyes.
“I’m going to fix us a snack. Behave yourselves, boys. I’ll be back shortly,” announced Fenton.
When Fenton was out of the room, Tabby said to Horateo, quietly, “We should talk.”
“Fenton is getting to be a bore,” continued Tabby Cat. “I think he needs to disappear.”
Horateo sighed. Then the bird-lizard said, “Yes, my sentiments exactly.” He flew over and landed on Harkley’s shoulder and said in the old man’s ear, “Harkley, you will keep this to yourself, won’t you?”
A small amount of drool fell down Harkley’s chin. He blinked his left eye-followed by his right eye after considerable effort.
“Good man, Harkley. Good man.”
Phil Temples grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, USA. He’s lived in Boston, Massachusetts for the past thirty five years and works as a computer systems administrator at Boston College. For over ten years, Phil has written flash and short sci-fi/fantasy primarily for his own enjoyment.
His stories have appeared (or will soon appear) in several online journals, including: Indiana Science Fiction 2012, Bewildering Stories, The Zodiac Review, The World of Myth, InfectiveINk, Stupefying Stories, the Literary Yard, and Boston Literary Magazine. Phil’s first novel, The Winship Affair, by Blue Mustang Press, is now available in print and e-book from your favorite online bookstore. He’s currently working on his second novel, a horror-mystery entited, Helltown Chronicles.